Palestine Museum of Natural History

green white and black flag

Photo by Hakan Nural on Unsplash

On 31 May 2014 we signed a contract to start the Palestine Museum of Natural History/Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (see my speech below in Arabic and English). I was reflecting this morning with colleagues on the achievements in those seven years: dozens of research papers, environmental education and awareness to thousands of visitors and workshop participants, conservation efforts, helping farmers with permaculture, animal rehabilitation, community garden, exhibits, and many more. We successfully implemented over 30 projects (funded by groups ranging from Rotary International to National Geographic to the EU to the British Council and the Royal Society). We (staff, friends, volunteers, and allies) are now working on many other projects including developing our biodiversity center, herbarium, molecular labs and with the Environment Quality Authority and others on the national report for the convention on biological diversity and for the national strategy for biodiversity.  We accomplished a lot (see annual report 2020 here) but the future looks even brighter with your continued support as we are becoming a regional and global center for environmental research, education, and conservation.

So we humbly say thank you ALL and pledge to work even harder.
Team of

Launch of Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH)

1 June 2014

Yesterday I signed a memorandum of understanding with Bethlehem University to institutionalize the Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH). PMNH in an unofficial capacity accomplished a lot in the past few years but now will quickly become the premier institution in the Arab world with high caliber research, education, and service relating to biodiversity and environmental conservation. In the agreement on my end, my family donates $250,000 for interim operational costs and we also bring in collections and our free work (over 10 volunteers). The University provides space and infrastructure support (up to $45,000) for the interim period (5 years). Together, we will work to build it. Some 30 key people (including some of our volunteers) attended the signing ceremony. This was a historic day but the work is just beginning. Below is my short speech at the event on behalf of the volunteers. Please read it as we WILL NEED YOUR SUPPORT. You do not have to have a biology or nature background to join and/or help; merely interest. First, you may join us in a separate electronic group that will deal with environmental and biodiversity issues in Palestine: email me to indicate you would like to join this nature list. Joining the list is not a commitment to help but a commitment to be informed and get involved. We also welcome donations through the Bethlehem University Foundation in the US or directly to BU (please indicate on your donation it is for the PMNH and let me know that you sent it).  For a video of a small part of our work done please see this youtube video

Talk by Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh at signing ceremony for the Palestine Museum of Natural History 30 May 2014:

This day is of historical significance. I want to start on behalf of current museum volunteers and researchers by thanking all of you, university administrators, Brother Peter, Brother Stephen, Dr. Irene, Chris, volunteers, coworkers, my family, and all others who made this day possible. To my wife Jessie and son Dany, without you, none of this would be possible. We started with a vision by my uncle Sana Atallah 50 years ago and now moved to a collective vision by many people. On his summer visits to Palestine, he would take me and other children to the field. I was impressed as a child by his dedication and love of nature. When he died at age 27, I promised to finish the work he planned to do. One of those was to research mammals in the Arab world and I thus published two books and over 70 papers on mammals (there are still more coming; we are now working on new data for bats). But the other dream was a museum to serve Palestine.

While we had opportunities with NGOs or a new NGO it was clear to all concerned that this needs to be integrated with teaching and research at the University which intends to dramatically improve education, research, and service over the next few years incorporating this project and other projects. Two example areas that will revolutionize biology and related areas are biodiversity and biotechnology (including human genetic health etc.). We are fortunate to have experience in both and in many ways we can also integrate them together for example using DNA for systematics and taxonomy of animals and plants. Bethlehem University cytogenetics lab was the first lab to publish peer review work on genotoxic effects of Israeli industrial settlements, the first to publish data on causes of male infertility in Palestine, the first to study chromosomes of Palestinian scorpions (2 papers with undergraduates), the first to survey amphibians in the West Bank and more. We have an excellent study of the fauna of Wadi Al-Quf, the first Palestinian administered natural park and we showed surprising and new records. We have started strong and none of our previous achievements could have been done without your support. But it was clear that we could do more when we create a museum of natural history by world standards.

Palestine faces many challenges such as overpopulation, colonization, global warming, and environmental degradation. We collectively plan to create a significant research, service, teaching, and development museum for Palestine and beyond to address some of these challenges.  We have plans for over 10 sections of this museum by the end of our 5-year development phase. They include sections for museum administration (including accounting and development), sections for entomology, arachnology, herpetology, ornithology, mammalogy, malacology (these all focus on different groups of animals), plant systematics, paleontology, geology, public exhibits (including complete ecosystem demonstrations) and more. The $250,000 that my wife and I donated is a drop in the bucket compared to what is really needed to achieve this. But as Khalil Gibran said “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.  For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the over-prudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city? And what is fear of need but need itself?” So, we will give much more in time and effort than anything else, of ourselves. I am sure with your help and with the help of volunteers and co-researchers as we publish more papers and demonstrate our capabilities, we will get the needed support to achieve the mission of the museum to research our natural world and use this knowledge to promote responsible human interactions with our environment.

We hope to move in the next two weeks to the location in Mar Andreas (and ahead of time I thank Dr. Mousa and ICP for their cooperation and we will collaborate as this is a community project).  If we have on average 10 volunteers and researchers working with us the first year, 15 the second, then I am sure we will publish >10 papers and we will expand the collection at an accelerated rate, and we will get the needed infrastructure and other support to succeed much more in the third year. An independent board will oversee this work so this will be a team effort; it is not my project but each of you is needed to be a partner to make this succeed. To do this, we will have a weekly gathering every Wednesday at 5 PM at the museum in Mar Andreas starting July 2. These gatherings will involve an educational workshop (e.g. on an environmental issue or on butterflies of Palestine etc.) and then followed by a meeting for practical planning for actions and growth. Participants will be issued certificates that will bear the logo of the Palestine Museum of Natural History and Bethlehem University.  But I also promise you we will have collaborations with several institutions as we already did with ARIJ, with three other Palestinian universities, with EEC, with universities and institutions outside of Palestine, and more. We are talking to others in over 20 countries about collaboration and support. More collaboration will be coming and this will be a priority to meet with key individuals (you and others) to work out the details. Again we thank you for all you have done so far but I will be meeting and asking for more help to make this a success for Palestine that we all will be proud of.

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